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Two Thousand Maniacs!

Arrow Video // Unrated // May 15, 2018
List Price: $34.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted May 19, 2018 | E-mail the Author
In 10 Words or Less
The South rises again...for blood

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: Cult films, weird stuff
Likes: Arrow Video
Dislikes: Hillbillies, gore
Hates: Pride in the Confederacy

The Story So Far...
Two Thousand Maniacs!, the second film in gore master Herschell Gordon Lewis' Blood Trilogy, is an unfortunately still-timely horror take on the story of Brigadoon. This new standalone Blu-ray release follows the film's inclusion in Arrow Video's massive "The Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast" box set, and joins a series of releases, including Something Weird's 2001 DVD.

The Movie
There's a long tradition of southern horror, as the stereotypes of the American South--racism, ignorance, inbreeding and poverty--all lend themselves perfectly to the dread-inducing atmosphere of a scary movie. If you place most of the great southern horror films--your Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Deliverance or any of a number of "lost in the backwoods" nightmares--anywhere besides the heavily-accented places they are set in, they would never have the same feel, as the insular reputation of the small-town South puts you on edge from the start thanks to a lack of control of the situation.

In Herschell Gordon Lewis' Two Thousand Maniacs!, that's certainly the case for the unfortunate vacationing "yankees" who are guided off-course to the small berg of Pleasant Valley, Georgia, which is enjoying a Confederate-flag waving centennial celebration. Foisting their aggressive form of hospitality on a half-dozen wayward northerners, these small-town folks--including kids toting hangman's nooses--are instantly off-putting, so there's not a great deal of subtlety to the threat our protagonists face, and the film wastes little time in putting them in the line of fire. There's nothing clever or low-key about how the hicks from the sticks pick off the visitors, which is fitting considering the mentality of the villains.

Because the film gets moving quickly, diving right into the madness of Pleasant Valley, there's not a great deal of character development when it comes to the victims, which makes it hard to care much about them when they meet their gruesome fates. Similarly, the people of Pleasant Valley aren't much more than well-worn stereotypes--from the slack-jawed yokels to the hypersexual southern belle--so their story isn't much more interesting--with the twist-ish origins of their deadly plans losing some of its punch over the decades since its release. If you need to explain the plot in heavy detail in the finale, there's a good chance it didn't quite work.

Obviously, Lewis is a legend in the horror realm, but this film falls short in a number of areas, from the effects on the less-than-inventive kills (of course, the genre had to start somewhere, and one is actually still quite wicked) to the acting (which is uneven at best, which actually adds something to the creepy feel). It is however competently shot, and what really works is the music, as a trio of wandering musicians act as a Greek chorus, singing about what's been happening, while also performing some mood-setting Old South folk songs that are catchy yet disturbing in their lyrics. Their banjo picking adds that "I think we're in Kansas, Toto" dread that defines southern horror, particularly when the northerners first arrive in Pleasant Valley and nothing overtly bad happens, but you know things just aren't right. The use of music and the unsettling setting make Two Thousand Maniacs! an effective exercise in tone, but less effect at telling an engaging story.

The Disc
Arrow Video gives a solo release to Two Thousand Maniacs!, with this disc (featuring different cover art than the "Feast" version) packaged in a clear, somewhat thick Blu-ray keepcase, accompanied by a two-sided cover that has the original poster art on the inside and a new illustration by The Twins of Evil on the retail side. Arrow's usual clean still menu offers options to select a film, watch the film, adjust languages and check out the extras. There are no audio options, but subtitles are available in English.

The Quality
The 1.78:1, 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer on this disc--restored by Something Weird--isn't going to blow anyone's mind, as the presentation blends materials from a scan of the original elements with standard-def tape masters to replace lost footage. The difference between the two sources is severely obvious, as the color and clarity changes back and forth in the middle of scenes. When the disc is serving up the original materials, it can look pretty fantastic, with nicely saturated color (displaying vibrant reds and blues) and a high level of fine detail, though dirt and damage is often present, along with some jitter and contrast variations. When the standard-def footage is in use, the image takes on an obvious blue tint, and looks much softer (as expected.) Black levels are quite solid overall, aided by the film's high-contrast lighting, though softness can creep in, a flaw seemingly inherent in the production. No digital distractions have been introduced.

The 1.0 LPCM track experiences the same issues with inconsistency seen in the image, with some dialogue coming off like bad dubbing as a result of the different source materials. For the most part, the film's score, soundtrack (made up of a variety of diegetic banjo songs) and dialogue all sound clear and sufficiently strong, except where the recording was an issue (like someone speaking on the other side of the room.) Some clicks and pops, along with occasional hum, can be heard in various spots.

The Extras
Two Thousand Maniacs! opens with a 1:59 video introduction by Lewis, who talks about why it's his favorite of his creations. He then returns with his partner-in-crime producer David Friedman, as well as Something Weird's Mike Vraney and Shock Films' Jimmy Maslow, for an audio commentary that provides lots of production stories, talk of how the success of Blood Feast affected this film, and plenty of opportunities for Lewis to crack jokes.

Also included on this disc is Moonshine Mountain, another film Lewis put out the same year as Two Thousand Maniacs!, which though set in the same world of rednecks, couldn't be more different, as a city-slicker folk singer embedding himself amongst the hill people for musical inspiration, winds up in the middle of a murder investigation amongst moonshiners. It's not much better than Two Thousand Maniacs! (some judicious editing would make a huge difference) but it's free of gore and has enough over-the-top elements to be entertaining in a way (especially the country-fried credits). The transfer is in really rough shape, spliced together and missing frames, but as a result it has a definite grindhouse aesthetic. The film has an optional 2:06 introduction by Lewis, in which he talks about why the film was made, the cast and attacks on the set by locals.

"Two Thousand Maniacs Can't Be Wrong" (9:54) offers an appreciation of the film by Tim Sullivan, who remade the movie as 2001 Maniacs. He talks about how he discovered Lewis as a filmmaker, what it was like seeing the film in theaters as youth, and--most interestingly--the negative effect of increased access to films on the perception of older movies.

The 7:14 "Hicksploitation: Confidential" is a visual essay on how the American south has been depicted on-screen, from the early days of cinema to more recent entries, touching on storylines, stereotypes and sexuality, as well as the adaptation of southern authors. More of a historical overview than an analytical review of the genre, it's a decent review of this corner of cinema.

"David Friedman: The Gentleman's Smut Peddler" (9:22) is a breezy spotlight on Lewis' production partner, with interviews with Lewis, Sullivan, Fred Olen Ray and film editor Bob Murawski, as they talk about his role in film history. Lewis discusses how he got involved with Friedman and what he brought to their partnership.

At 3:33, "Herschell's Art of Advertising" is very quick but it is definitely worth a look, as Lewis talks about how to sell a film, and how the promotion of films has changed over time.

"Maniacs! Outtakes" is a bit of ephemera, as you get to watch 16:28 of bits of footage from the production of the film, with music and dialogue from the movie laid over it. Because it's all just outtakes, there's nothing particularly unique about this footage, except for how the slate used before shots reveals the film's original/working name.

Wrapping things up on the extras side are a pair of trailers for the films (2:14 and 1:29), which, in addition to being in excellent shape (the best Moonshine Mountain looks), reveals all the most important parts of each film.

The Bottom Line
Out of sheer respect for Lewis' legacy as a filmmaker, Two Thousand Maniacs! got more of a leash than I might have given a similar film. It's not likely to be revisited at any point soon, but there are elements to be admired, particularly the use of music to establish a disturbing mood. Arrow has presented the film in fine, but certainly not perfect shape (through no fault of their own) but has supported it with a selection of engaging extras (powered mainly by Lewis' appeal), including the novelty of the oddball full-length Moonshine Mountain. If you haven't come to know Lewis' work, there are certainly better options--like a fine wine, he improved with time--but this is certainly a memorable experience.

Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.

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*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.

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